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Sun Peaks

World-class mountains beckon skiers to Kamloops

By TONY MINER

It was just a couple of years ago that world-class athletes gathered for the Olympics on the west side of British Columbia, but there's also world-class skiing to be found on the much sunnier and dryer side of the province. An abundance of blue skies, light powder, and short lift lines await skiers of all levels at the fantastic and aptly named Sun Peaks, located just outside of Kamloops BC.

Toss into that mix jaw-dropping vistas, high speed chairlifts, and a number of excellent eateries in the very charming village, and you have the ingredients for a ski vacation that will linger in the mind long after temperatures rise and ski gear is stowed at the end of the winter/spring ski season.

Sun Peaks is closer than you think and pretty easy to get to. It's between five and six hours northeast of Seattle by car, or you can fly into Kamloops. When you arrive, have the sunglasses handy, because the ski resort truly does live up to its name. It boasts over 2,000 hours of sunshine a year, and there's nothing like watching the light powder fly in your shadow as you cruise down one of the many runs on the nearly 3,700 acres of skiable terrain.

Sun Peaks is actually three separate and diverse mountains: Tod, Sundance, and Morrisey. Included in the nearly 3,000 feet of vertical heaven are 122 runs, as well as 12 gladed areas. No problem moving skiers up the hills via 11 chairlifts (including five quads) with a total lift capacity of over 12,000 riders per hour. You like bowl skiing? They've got you covered, with two alpine bowls for carving those big lines. For those who prefer the skinny skis, there's a vast system of Nordic trails winding through the panoramic winter landscape.

Sun Peaks offers some unique experiences. Ever skied with an Olympic gold and silver medalist before? Here's your chance. Canadian Olympic champion Nancy Greene makes her winter home at Sun Peaks and leads visitors down the mountain as often as she can. The Austrians certainly know something about alpine skiing, and their national ski team has called Sun Peaks home for the past five years. They can often be seen on the mountain and have been training for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

On top of all that, the coup de grace may be that long lift lines just don't exist at Sun Peaks. On a recent Saturday when I was there, the wait time was at most a couple minutes. And since I was skiing in the single line, I was basically heading up the mountain on a high-speed quad, cruising back down (with a couple breathers as many of the runs are long!), then repeating the process all over again. After a few hours of that, I was ready for an early aprés ski.

For a great place to take off the ski boots and call home during your stay at Sun Peaks, we were fortunate enough to stay in the center of the village at the Hearthstone Lodge. From the moment we walked in the door, general manager Trevor Carr and his staff made us feel welcome and special. Among the many fine features of the Hearthstone Lodge is the fact that you are steps away from the ski lifts. If you just can't wait to start sliding, you can strap on the skis right outside the lodge and cruise down to the main lift area. Either way, Hearthstone Lodge is perfectly situated to use as your base of operations.

Hearthstone Lodge features luxury units in an intimate and very warm setting. It's a full service hotel featuring gas fireplaces in every room, executive conference facilities, a fitness center, common laundry facilities, secured underground parking, two restaurants, a deli, and retail shops. All units are climate controlled and feature a convenience kitchen (dishwasher, two burner stove, microwave, full sized refrigerator, toaster, and coffee maker), TV, telephones and WiFi access for your laptop. We stayed in a very spacious loft unit that was tastefully decorated and sported a bird's eye view of the village. The king size bed was very comfortable, and was perfect for re-charging the batteries for another day on the slopes.

The Hearthstone Lodge also features two outdoor hot tubs. After so many ski runs that I actually lost count, I had one of those wonderful tubs all to myself for some much needed therapy. Soaking in the soothing bubbles was a great way to drift off, re-live the triumphs of the day, and plan my next outing. With visions of showing Nancy Greene a thing or two about carving up powder, it was a perfect end to each ski day!

When it's time to eat, the Hearthstone Lodge is just steps away from some outstanding food. After walking through the delicious aromas wafting from Mountain High Pizza on our way back into the hotel, we finally succumbed and had lunch there. The pizza was first rate and was worth a second visit. Also located within the lodge is the excellent Bella Italia. After agonizing over a tantalizing menu, we started with an olive bruschetta appetizer and Caesar salads. I chose an entrée of prawns and scallops over a bed of smoked salmon and créme risotto, while my wife went traditional with spaghetti Bolognese. We both agreed that it was some of the best Italian food we've had in years.

You can choose from a wide variety of cuisines throughout the village–European, Asian, a Tapas bar, as well as a very good steakhouse. We were in the mood for a big steak after a tough day on the slopes, and the Sun Peaks Lodge Steakhouse certainly fit the bill. The bacon wrapped filet mignon was mouth watering, and we made sure we left room for one of their signature desserts–the baked caramel apple. I made a mental note to attempt a couple more black diamond runs the next day to work that off.

The village at Sun Peaks is a wonderful place to visit, inspired by the traditional alpine villages of Europe. The colorful buildings feature stucco walls and low-sloped tile roofs that retain the snow for energy efficiency and a cozy winter wonderland feel. A hub of winter energy, the village allows people to ski through to the chairlifts, while others mingle with morning coffee, lunch or dinner. Covered walkways make it very easy to browse the retail shops where you'll find homemade candies, skiwear, specialty clothing, gift shops and art galleries.

Sun Peaks is a very family-friendly place, with plenty of things to do, and The Sundance Playschool has both indoor and outdoor activities for kids. For those who don't ski or snowboard, there are plenty of other winter activities to try. You can snowshoe through the valley, mush your very own dogsled, snowmobile across open meadows, ice skate under the stars, whiz down the tube park, or take a romantic sleigh ride through the village.

This is an award-winning and world-class ski resort – and you'll discover why when you fall in love with Sun Peaks.

AT A GLANCE

WHERE: Sun Peaks BC is about six hours northeast of Seattle, on the sunny and dry side of the province. Kamloops is the main population center of the region, and Sun Peaks is about a 45-minute drive away.

WHAT: A world-class ski resort, Sun Peaks features 122 ski runs and 11 chairlifts spread over three diverse mountains. Stay in the Hearthstone Lodge right in the center of the charming European style alpine village.

WHEN: Winter, of course, is the best time to visit Sun Peaks, and the ski season lasts until mid-April. But more people are checking out Sun Peaks in the summer as well, to golf, hike, fish, and enjoy gorgeous warm weather.

WHY: As the name implies, Sun Peaks boasts over 2,000 hours of blue skies a year, champagne powder, non-existent lift lines, world-class skiing and accommodations.

HOW: Drive North from Seattle on I-5, cross the border at Sumas, and head east on the Trans-Canada Highway. Go through Chilliwack and Hope BC, take the Coquihalla Highway (5) to Kamloops, and follow the signs to Sun Peaks. Or you can catch a flight to Kamloops and get transportation from there. For more information on Hearthstone Lodge, phone 888-659-2211 or visit www.hearthstoneresort.com.

Photos, from top: Kids learn how to ski at Sun Peaks; horse-drawn sleigh in the Village; plenty of great terrain for top-notch skiers; the village at night

Photos courtesy Sun Peaks Resort/Adam Stein



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